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12th March 2020

Mental health struggles among UK students increasing

The report finds that all items included in the happiness index have fallen among young people and that only 13% of people have accessed services when needed
Mental health struggles among UK students increasing
Photo: Sander van der Wel @Wikimedia Commons

Student mental health problems are rising exponentially, according to a new report by the Insight Network and student organisation Dig-In.

The report questioned over 80,000 students across three years. Almost half (42%) of students surveyed were found to have suffered from a serious personal, emotional, behavioural or mental health problem. Depression and anxiety were also found to be the most common student mental illnesses.

Two-thirds of students said they would approach a mental health professional if they could do so online. This finding raises questions about whether services need to adapt digitally.

Research regarding the prevalence of stigma is equally worrying. Eight in ten students with a mental health diagnosis said they have concealed their symptoms due to stigma. This fear explains student’s reluctance to access support services offered by their university; athough 82% of students said they are aware of available services, only 13% have accessed them.

To inform successful intervention, the study identified sub-sections of the student population most at risk. Those identified as high risk include students who are non-binary, third-year, female, or international.

The research confirms the findings of a 2018 Prince’s Trust survey, which revealed that every item in the happiness index had fallen among young people in the UK. This measurement was the lowest recorded since research began in 2009.

Significantly, the report aims to further raise the profile of mental health issues among the UK student population. It is hoped that the findings will act as a call to arms for key stakeholders and the NHS.

Brian Dow, CEO of Mental Health UK said,  “How can it be that, for all the progress we’ve made in the last decade, so many young people still feel the need to conceal their mental illness for fear of the reaction from other people? Dig-In’s report reminds us that, no matter how readily available you make services, the stigma of mental illness can still present a very real challenge for many.”

Dr. Stephen Pereira, Director of the Insight Network said:

“Students may be vulnerable to psychological difficulties due to the interaction of a vast array of university-specific challenges. These stressors include moving away from home for the first time, establishing new networks, developing new identities, new intellectual demands, and financial strains. Therefore, it is pertinent that as a society we support and educate students on how to recognise stress, the early warning of mental health problems and where to seek support.”


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